Queen of Earth – Film Review

Queen of Earth

Catherine (Elisabeth Moss) is in a troubled place. Left by her boyfriend a few months after her revered artist father committed suicide, she looks for solace in her old friend Ginny (Katherine Waterston) and a lakeside retreat. Bad choice. Catherine is with the last person who can help her come to terms with the tragedies that have come her way, while arguably, Ginny has no good reason to offer help in the first place.

I knew almost nothing about this film before seeing it, only that it was a low-budget drama led by two women, pretty much putting it in my wheelhouse. Another Martha Marcy May Marlene, maybe? I was excited!

Queen of Earth switches its timeframe between Catherine and Ginny’s present break in the cottage and their equivalent stay the year before. It shows how their actions on the first holiday have had consequences for the second and Waterson and Moss both put in thoughtful performances of two friends who really shouldn’t be any more.

Everything about the film is designed to maximise your discomfort. From too-close shots of people’s faces that make you want to physically lean away from them, to the suspenseful music that never once lets up. By the end of the film I was exhausted from being bullied into feeling tense for the whole 90 minutes. Despite the score’s hard work though, I was frequently bored.

Queen of Earth 2

Long monologues – expositional turnings over of past, personality-shaping relationships – can easily be imagined in the context of a conversation with real-life friends who are trying to analyse how they got to where they are now. However, they’re just tedious when you are the spectator of characters who you don’t even like. Without exception, I grew to loathe everyone on screen, as the behaviour of both main and supporting characters pushed the believable boundaries of what a person would be willing to put up with from their ‘friends’, let alone strangers. Despite the strength of the lead actors, the script failed to convince me that Catherine and Ginny were ever friends in the first place and so I had nothing on which to hang my belief that they’d be willing to endure each other’s unpleasantness now. It was also surprising how, for a film that almost never leaves these two women, it struggled to pass the Bechdel Test.

It isn’t hard to imagine this as a very different review. A parallel-universe me could be praising Queen of Earth for its suspense, dark reading of interpersonal relationships and insightful portrayal of depression. Sadly, in this universe Queen of Earth left me frustrated and worn-out, and no amount of admiring the craft can mitigate that.

There is an interesting film to be made about growing away from your old friendships but not breaking the bond. I don’t think this is it.

High-Rise – Film Review

High-Rise

What do I even say about High-Rise? Everything about this film is so distinct and unique it defies description or definition. It is a unique entity and so is hard to line up and compare against all other films. I’ll do my best for you.

In a slightly askew version of London in 1975 Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) moves into a modern concrete high-rise. Inside he meets all manner of unusual character brought to life by an impressive cast list you’re better off finding on IMDb than me typing out here. The tower has everything a resident might need from a swimming pool to a market and Laing soon realises it has its own social structure too. On the lower floors live the families and poorer residents while at the top reside the wealthier residents and local celebrities. In the penthouse Laing finds the building’s visionary architect Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons).

All is well, if a little surreal, for a short while but before long a riot/party/social uprising begins and all hell breaks loose. In a surreal manner naturally. By this point in the film I entered an almost dreamlike state in which I felt like I was watching the film through a haze. Could this have been down to it only being 3pm and my watching my third film of the day or was I being elevated to a higher plane through cinema? I’ll let you decide.

High-Rise 2

The combination of screenwriter Amy Jump, here adapting J.G. Ballard’s novel, and director Ben Wheatley once again produce a unique beast. Not only is it different from all the other films at last year’s film festival but distinct from everything their collaboration has produced before. The tone veers wildly, and sublimely, from comedy to horror to drama. This is the film you expect Ayoade or Gilliam to make and yet the result is distinctly Wheatley.

And the set! The set is that of a gorgeously brutalist tower block with, presumably fake, cast concrete inside and out. Having recently toured the Southbank Centre as part of a celebration of brutalism I feel especially qualified to say the set design was top-notch; both bleak and beautiful as life in London so often is.

I have pages of notes with various thoughts and comments on the film but on reflection I can’t help but feel that sharing these would you might take away from the surprise and delight that High-Rise has in store for you. You will laugh, you will wince, you will marvel at the almost naked sight of Tom Hiddleston. If there’s one film you need to see to stay relevant at a cinephiles dinner party, this is it.

It’s like Snowpiercer but vertical. I loved it more than I understood it.

I will admit that the film did lose me at times but for sheer no hold barred inventiveness I can’t withhold a single star.

High-Rise is out in UK cinemas now and I dare you not to watch.

Listen Up Philip – LFF Review

Listen Up Philip

Listen Up Philip starts with a detailed voiceover courtesy of Eric Bogosian; a voiceover that details the precise actions, inner thoughts and intentions of the main character; voiceover that possesses the deep tone of the opening vocals at the start of (500) Days of Summer but at a faster pace. This voiceover does not relent and for the first few minutes I grew convinced that the entire film would be told by a narrator but thankfully after these first few minutes the narration stopped only to reappear at random intervals throughout the film. What this voiceover added was an almost literary like level of detail about the inner working of a character’s head; the very detail that often makes books tricky to adapt into films. Why might a film want to add literary levels of detail? Because the lead character is an author or course.

Jason Schwartzman plays the titular role of Philip, a newly successful author whose sense of self-accomplishment has reached a level that has made him emotionally distant from his photographer girlfriend (Elisabeth Moss) and generally an insufferable prick. Schwartzman has played an unlikeable author before in the TV series Bored to Death but with Philip he is taking the idea to an extreme and plays a person who is rude to everyone he meets and so naturally becomes more attractive to the women in his life. As part of his success-driven mid-life crisis Philip strikes up a friendship with an equally acerbic older author, and personal hero, Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce). Ike enjoys the presence of a young adoring author and so invites Philip to stay at his country retreat. From here Philip spends 108 minutes of film behaving appallingly and ruining his life. The details of which I advise you to see the film to find out.

Listen Up Philip 2

Listen Up Philip is a curious beast and avoids any sense of predictability or formulaic ststorytelling. There is no real structure to the film as Philip just meanders along being irritating to a variety of people in a variety of circumstances in an incredibly enjoyable way. The fact that Schwartzman has played this character, or someone very like it, before means that he is well suited to the role of self aggrandising protagonist. There are few people I could watch being this unpleasant for this long but thankfully Jason Schwartzman is one of them. What was also pleasing about the film is that it often lets focus wander away from Philip. Initially I was concerned that Moss had been given an unforgiving girlfriend role but soon enough she had her own narrative, and her own narration, as we saw how she lived life whilst Philip was away. The film widens its scope, stretches its running time, and risks trying its audience’s patience by fleshing out the lives of a few supporting characters. While a little unfocused I think that without this the saturation of the caustic character of Philip would become too much to bear.

Writer and director Alex Ross Perry has given the film a very tactile autumnal aesthetic. There is a golden glow to most of the scenes and an abundance of beards, jumpers, and jazz. I have said before about films, that I felt as though I could reach out and feel the texture of the film. Listen Up Philip is all about people rubbing each other up the wrong way and the screen is filled with itchy looking fabrics and faces that help compliment this irritable feel. The voiceover can occasionally become a little heavy handed but I can only assume that this is the way it would feel to read one of Philip’s novels. The rest of the film, though a little long, is an enjoyable character study that shows how a modest amount of success can be someone’s undoing and if nothing else looks lovely. I quite liked it.

Listen Up Philip is in UK cinemas from today.

BFI LFF 2014

Top of The Lake – TV Review

Top of the Lake

Remember not long ago when all anyone could talk about was Broadchurch? Remember how it gripped you with its murder mystery? Remember how slow-moving the whole thing was? Remember how every character apart from the leads was a little bit empty and at worse silly? Well airing tonight on BBC One is a serial crime drama with all of the intrigue of Broadchurch but without any of the painfully slow bit and characters for characters.

Top of the Lake at its heart is about Tui, a missing and heavily pregnant 12-year-old girl, and Robin (Elisabeth Moss) the detective who returns to her home town to investigate and is forced to confront some dark events from her own childhood. That’s the basic plot but there is so much more depth to this series. Every character is struggling in some way and have their own diverse motivations and personalities. Set in a small town in New Zealand there is a real feel of this being an ensemble show. While Moss may play the lead no other character gets short shrift.

Elisabeth Moss - Top of the Lake

With a script from Oscar-winning Jane Campion and an international cast including Elisabeth Moss (who wows us in every episode of Mad Men), Peter Mullan (who terrified us all in Tyrannosaur), and Holly Hunter (unrecognisable as the head of a shipping container based women’s commune) Top of the Lake is an expertly written and brilliantly realised drama that does not rely solely on the central mystery to keep you coming back for more.

The show is halfway through its run on BBC One but I was sent the full series last week and devoured it as quickly as my social life allowed. This is the type of show that sucks you in and demands that you immerse yourself fully. Having been lucky enough to see the final episode let me assure you that it contains the shocking twist you will expect but is far more satisfying a conclusion than Broadchurch offered up. The show is dark, shocking, and a little bit brilliant.

Episode 4 of 6 airs tonight on BBC One at 9:10pm. If you are in need of catching up then the previous episodes are available on iTunes, BBC iPlayer, and the whole series is set for DVD and Blu-ray release on 19th August. And if you come back later in the week we’ll be giving away a copy.

What more can we possibly do to make you watch!?

EDIT: I forgot to mention the beautiful landscape. How could I do that to the beauty of New Zealand? Suffice it to say that the setting for the drama is stunning. Slightly more grey than we’ve seen in Lord of the Rings but we’re dealing with pregnant children here not hobbits.